State surgeon general to visit Eureka to talk about childhood trauma

Town hall with McGuire set for Thursday evening

Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, California’s first surgeon general, speaking during a TED Talk on adverse childhood experiences. Burke Harris is coming to Eureka on Thursday to raise awareness about adverse childhood experiences and learn about local initiatives that are trying to prevent them. (Screenshot)
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A growing body of research is recognizing that negative experiences early on in the lives of children can have lasting consequences for their health as an adult. California Surgeon General Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, who is a pediatrician with expertise in adverse childhood experiences, has made preventing these experiences a cornerstone of her approach to public health in the state.

Burke Harris will be joining First 5 Humboldt and state Sen. Mike McGuire for a town hall on adverse childhood experiences in Eureka on Thursday to learn about initiatives that are addressing those experiences locally and talk about her initiatives addressing them at the state level.

“The science has shown us that childhood adversity is a root cause of many of the greatest public health challenges we face today – increasing the risk of serious conditions ranging from heart disease, chronic lung disease, and suicide to gun violence, domestic violence and substance dependence,” Burke Harris said in a news release. “Adverse childhood experiences) impact all of our communities throughout California and it is an honor to visit Humboldt County for the opportunity to understand the local approaches being taken to address the impacts of this public health threat.”

The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors has been allocating $400,000 every year for the past three years to address childhood trauma, said Mary Ann Hansen, executive director of First 5 Humboldt. Half of that money is given out in the form of community grants to support programs that prevent adverse childhood experiences, promote resiliency and provide training in trauma-informed care.

Research has shown that one of the main factors in resilience, being able to bounce back from difficult life circumstances, is the presence of a caring and supportive adult in a child’s life, Hansen said.

“It’s really about connection,” she said. “Connection helps buffer toxic stress in a child’s life.”

When a child doesn’t have that buffer, that trauma may trigger a repeated and prolonged activation of their stress response that will ultimately impact how that child’s DNA expresses itself, said Cate Powers, communications director for Office of the California Surgeon General.

“You can mitigate against those impacts if you have appropriate buffering care as a child or you as an adult learn how to manage the things the childhood trauma has made you predisposed to,” Powers said.

Part of the work the county supports including helping educate parents about child development and provide them with concrete resources and supports, Hansen said.

Providing training in trauma-informed care to health care providers locally can also help shift their mindset from “what’s wrong with you to what happened to you,” Hansen said.

“Let’s say someone comes to a doctor and says they’re experiencing chronic pain,” Hansen said. “Maybe their solution is a prescription or some lifestyle changes, but if you’re a trauma-informed doctor, you might explore a little more deeply with the patient to find out what their experiences have been.”

That may ultimately change the treatment they receive, Powers said, so beginning this January, the state will begin reimbursing physicians screening Medi-Cal recipients for adverse childhood experiences.

“Adverse childhood experiences and toxic stress are essentially a public health care crisis that, until recently, have been unrecognized,” Powers said.

About 16.6% of Humboldt County parents reported their children experienced two or more adverse childhood experiences in 2016, compared with a statewide rate of 16.4%, according to Kidsdata.org, a program of the nonprofit Lucile Packard Foundation for Children’s Health.

Adverse childhood experiences are “highly prevalent,” she said, with 63.5% of Californians having had at least one of these experiences and 17.6% having experienced four or more.

These experiences cut across all boundaries, whether socioeconomic, race, religion, gender or otherwise, Powers said.

“Everyone has (adverse childhood experiences) basically,” Powers said.

While learning what the county and state are doing to tackle adverse childhood experiences is an important part of the town hall, Hansen said they would also like to hear from the community.

“The most important thing is to have a conversation as a community about how we can help support families,” Hansen said.

If you go

What: Town hall on childhood trauma with state Sen. Mike McGuire, First 5 Humboldt and state surgeon general

Where: Sequoia Conference Center, 901 Myrtle Ave., Eureka

When: 6 to 8 p.m.

More info: A live-stream of the event will be available at https://bit.ly/35melgp.

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